. . . continued

Gurus tend to be from the caste system in India, where everyone knows their place. They have no clue how Americans live and work. They detest us, but are glad to take our money. They have no clue what type of meditation we should do.

Meditation pertains to living your own life, and having your own relationship with the inner world. The guru is all about having an external authority to rule you. He is the Master, you are the slave. And the guru traditions tend to be very poor at teaching the actual skills of meditation. They aren't paying attention at all to what Westerners need. I often have clients who have studied with gurus, and am amazed at how little they understand what the actual techniques of meditation are. They close their eyes and do something, but they lack in technique. They have learned how to put on Muzak in their mind to blot out their thoughts and feelings, to a certain extent, but that is not really meditation. It could be a stage toward getting into meditation, but only if you learn how to accept your individual nature, your essence.

Meditation is a practice you can do every day. You can, for example, get up in the morning, sit and close your eyes and meditate for 20 minutes, and then get up and have a much better day. You can come home in the evening and meditate for a few minutes before dinner. And just sitting in your chair, or on your bed, or on the sofa, you can have a profound spiritual inner vacation that leaves you rejuvenated.

If you want to learn to meditate, or get deeper into a consistent practice that helps you in your daily life, one of the central chores is to separate meditation from all the cultural baggage it has accumulated over the millennia. The meditation schools are ancient, unbroken lineages going back thousands of years. That is good. But at the same time they have preserved tens of thousands of meditation techniques, they have preserved everything else – every superstition from all over Asia, every fantasy an obsessive-compulsive monk ever had, and innumerable rituals that once had meaning but are now out of context. The biggest part of all meditation teachings in the books are not for you – they were written for someone else.

What does this mean, separate meditation from the cultural baggage? It means that you are standing on your own ground when you meditate, doing it your way, in a style that affirms your individual nature and where you have come from. In practice, this means that you feel free to listen to your favorite rock and roll, or classical, or opera, music before and after you meditate – not some Hindu or Buddhist chant. It means you sit in a chair with your feet on the ground, or on a sofa, but not cross-legged unless you really, truly, are comfortable in a yoga pose. It means that you feel absolutely no need to pretend to be religious if you aren't. And if you love Jesus, meditate on Jesus, or not. If you want to meditate, do not change your religion, and don't become religious if you aren't. If anything, become more irreverent. Do not change your diet, don't burn incense, do not read book about spirituality, and don't try to change yourself. Just meditating everyday is a completely radical thing to do, and it will rock your world. To handle the changes that come from within, strengthen your ego. Strengthen your connection to the things you love, the activities you are thrilled by, and the people you love. Anchor yourself more firmly to your work and play and love. Strengthen the attachments you have to friends and lovers. This is because you need all the connectedness you can muster in order to gracefully handle the changes from within that meditation will bring. In meditation, you attune to your inner being, and gradually, in a natural way, your inner life reshapes your outer life to be closer to heart's desire.

If you meditate in a way that is unnatural to you, then you may find that your inner and outer life are reshaped to be more distant, disconnected and detached from heart's desire. You may wind up, as the Dalai Lama says, "homeless inside yourself."

One of the strangest ideas we have from India, and one that is sometimes associated with meditation, is that of the guru.This is a beautiful notion within the context of the culture of ancient India. But the very definition of guru – a human being who is greater than God – does not compute in the Western cultural system. By this definition, gurus are grandiose and pompous beyond belief. Even Bono would never be this grand. It is as if the local minister of the church in the center of your town started to say, "I AM Jesus. You can worship me as the living embodiment of Jesus. Drink my bath water, it is sacrament." And the main qualification is that you never tire of having people grovel in supplication at your feet. And quote some Hindu scripture from time to time. That's about it as far as qualifications go. We have no way of telling if a given person is a narcissist or a world servant. If you think about what enlightenment is, you realize that an enlightened person would probably never allow people to worship him or her.

At best you could say that the guru is a Santa Claus figure for adults – he knows when you have been naughty, and he knows when you have been nice, and it is sort of comforting to think that there is this person who flies around and bestows spiritual presents on the good children. It seems to work fine from within the culture of India, for many reasons. And it probably works OK for the 1% of the American population who are freshly reincarnated Hindus (I'm one). Over the last 40 years, I have lost a lot of friends and even girlfriends to the guru. They just disappear into the ashram, and once there, they only speak to others who are true believers. Many, but not all, of the Americans I know tend to get weaker and weaker over the years from their association with the guru, and I do not really know why. Whereas the Hindus I know, especially those born in India, get stronger and more radiant from their contact with their guru. It's part of their tradition.